School Committee votes to move ahead with leaner budgets, warns of layoffs, cuts to sports

The School Committee voted Monday morning to abandon its original FY 2024 budget proposal of about $49 million, which represented a 7.9% increase and included funding requests from principals and directors. Instead, it will present two much smaller versions at a public hearing next week. 

The School Committee will move forward with what it calls an “austerity budget” of $44.7 million, which includes a 1.8%, or 800,000, increase recommended by the Select Board. That budget will lead to 30 staff members being cut and freshmen sports being canceled, according to Superintendent John Buckey and School Committee Chair Sarah Fox. 

The School Committee will present a second “level funded” budget with a 5%, or $2.2 million, increase that covers contractual obligations for FY 2024. That plan would require an override vote, either included in a larger override request by the town or a separate school override. Both the town and School Committee have placed override requests on the Town Meeting warrant, but with no dollar amounts attached. The town has yet to say whether it will include school funding in its override. 

Freshmen sports would be canceled under the “austerity” budget.

“All of this is a bitter pill,” said School Committee member Sarah Gold. “I don’t think I can move forward without asking the town of Marblehead to keep the lights on and keep our district intact. Fifty percent of our teachers live in town. If we have 30 [layoffs], I cannot stomach the idea of letting people I see in Crosby’s every day go. If the town says no, the town says no.”

Fox was the only School Committee member who voted to present all three versions of the budget.

“We have a very intelligent engaged community, I’d like to show them what their educators have asked for and then ask them how they want to proceed,” Fox said.

The School Committee’s public budget hearing is March 21 at 7 p.m. at the high school auditorium. It is expected to vote on a budget in the days after that hearing.

Overrides must pass by a two-thirds vote at Town Meeting on May 1 and then a majority vote in a town election in June.

The School Committee is also sponsoring a capital needs request at Town Meeting to make “renovations and extraordinary repairs, including all professional feasibility studies, design, architectural and engineering fees to the Brown, Glover, Village, Veterans Middle and High School and their respective school grounds, and to purchase technology software and equipment…” according to the warrant.

“Our facilities subcommittee approved a prioritized list of approximately $1.3 million worth of capital improvements,” Buckey said. “We submitted this to the town and are awaiting word on what projects will be approved.”

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Editor Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter.

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